California’s Expanded Statute of Limitations for Civil Claims for Sexual Assault

February 15, 2023
Rachel E. Green

If you have experienced sexual assault in California, you might still be able to take legal action – even if the assault occurred years ago – thanks to the passage of a new law. On January 1, 2023, California expanded its statute of limitations for sexual assault claims, which permits survivors to file legal claims for a sexual assault that happened years ago.

In the past decade, in large part thanks to the impact of the #MeToo movement, sexual assault survivors have come forward in increasing numbers. Undoubtedly in response to this movement, California has repeatedly redefined its statute of limitation for sexual assault cases to give survivors more opportunities to take legal action. Some of California’s changes permanently increase the period of time a survivor can bring a civil claim for sexual assault. Other changes temporarily open a “lookback” window during which a survivor can bring a civil claim for sexual assault that had otherwise expired.

We recognize that the decision of whether to pursue a sexual assault case is an incredibly sensitive and emotional one. The attorneys at Katz Banks Kumin LLP have handled these types of cases for many decades and are committed to working with survivors to ensure that they can obtain justice. If you want to discuss the possibility of pursuing legal action, please contact us or visit our frequently asked questions page or our California sexual harassment law page for more information.

What is a Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault?

A statute of limitations sets a time limit for the maximum time that a person has to begin legal action from the date of the assault. In civil sexual assault cases, a statute of limitations defines the length of time the plaintiff has to file a lawsuit after the assault.

What is a Civil Claim for Sexual Assault?

If a person has been sexually assaulted, they can report the assault to the police. Prosecutors can determine whether to file charges based on that sexual assault. Each state applies its own statute of limitations to sexual assault criminal charges, which impact the length of time a prosecutor can wait to file criminal charges on behalf of a survivor of sexual assault.

In California, regardless of whether the survivor has reported the sexual assault to the police, the survivor can pursue a civil claim for sexual assault. A civil claim for sexual assault is a claim for damages caused by the sexual assault, which may include medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income, and other losses.

California Statute of Limitations for Civil Claims for Sexual Assault

In California, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim for sexual assault depends on the survivor’s age at the time of the assault.

Childhood Sexual Assault: If the sexual assault occurred when the survivor was under 18 years old, California law permits a survivor to take legal action until the later of:

  • The date the survivor turns 40 years old; or
  • Within five years of discovering that “psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual assault.”

Adult Sexual Assault: California’s recent statute of limitations expansions impact civil claims for sexual assault of adults, depending on when the sexual assault occurred.

For sexual assaults that occurred on or after January 1, 2019

California law allows survivors to file a claim within ten years from the date of the sexual assault or within three years from finding out they were injured because of the sexual assault.

For sexual assaults that occurred between January 1, 2009, and January 1, 2019

On January 1, 2023, the Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act, otherwise known as California Assembly Bill 2777, went into effect. This law opens up a three-year “lookback window” permitting survivors to file civil claims for sexual assault beginning on January 1, 2023 and ending on December 31, 2026.

This three-year window applies to sexual assault committed on or after January 1, 2009, with the exception of claims that were litigated to finality in court, or compromised by a settlement agreement, before January 1, 2023.

If not for this new law, if a survivor was sexually assaulted in California between January 1, 2009, and January 1, 2019, the statute of limitations for their civil claim for sexual assault might have expired: this new law may permit survivors to take legal action for otherwise-barred civil claims by “reviving” those claims during this three-year lookback window that closes on December 31, 2026.

Who Can Be Sued for Sexual Assault in California?

In California, survivors may sue the person who sexually assaulted them. Depending on the situation, survivors might be also able to sue another party, institution, employer, or company. Types of organizations that may be sued in a civil claim for sexual assault include, but are not limited to employers, hospitals and other medical providers, and schools, including K-12 and universities.

Entity “Cover Up”: The Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Actwhich went into effect on January 1, 2023, also revived civil claims until December 31, 2023, for sexual assault of adults when one or more entities are responsible for damages, and where the entity engaged in a “cover up” (as defined). In other words, survivors may now have a one-year window to file civil claims for sexual assault against entities that “covered up” sexual assault that would otherwise be barred because the statute of limitation had expired.

“Cover up” is defined as a “concerted effort to hide evidence relating to a sexual assault that incentivizes individuals to remain silent or prevents information relating to a sexual assault from becoming public or being disclosed to the plaintiff, including, but not limited to, the use of nondisclosure agreements or confidentiality agreements.”

The law revives related claims, including but not limited to wrongful termination and sexual harassment, that arise out of the sexual assault. However, any such claims must be filed between January 1, 2023, and December 31, 2023. If you believe you may have a claim impacted by this expanded statute of limitations, please contact one of our attorneys to discuss your potential claim.

We recognize that survivors reading this page may feel complex emotions about pursuing legal action against their perpetrators. Katz Banks Kumin has a team of compassionate attorneys who are experienced in representing survivors of sexual assault and can help you decide whether to take legal action.

Our Offices

Washington, DC
Katz Banks Kumin LLP

11 Dupont Circle NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Phone: 202-299-1140
Philadelphia, PA
Katz Banks Kumin LLP

1845 Walnut St., 25th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Phone: 215-735-2171
San Francisco, CA
Katz Banks Kumin LLP

150 California St., 16th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111

Phone: 415-813-3260